A Beginner’s Guide to Working in Cybersecurity

Explore why cybersecurity is a fast-growing industry and what you need to start a cybersecurity career.
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Evan Thompson
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Evan Thompson is an education and careers writer with BestColleges. He was previously a journalist with bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, and Everett Herald. His beats have included education, sports, business, outdoors, and lifestyl...
Updated on September 7, 2023
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  • Cybersecurity protects computers or computer networks (the internet) from attacks.
  • The need for cybersecurity workers is high as industry growth skyrockets.
  • Getting into cybersecurity requires education, essential skills, and training.
  • Information security analysts earned a median salary of $102,600 in 2021.

Say what you want about the "Terminator" franchise, but it's helped put cybersecurity on the map. Cybersecurity even became a dream job for one superfan of the movies.

You might be one of those types. Or you're interested in this career path for another reason, like practicality.

Cybersecurity is a fast-growing industry, and the need for trained workers is rising. The global workforce reached an all-time high of 4.7 million people in 2022, according to a study by (ISC)2, a non-profit cybersecurity organization. The talent shortage is a staggering 3.4 million people.

This guide explores how to get into cybersecurity, career paths to take, and job trends.

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a form of protection against threats involving computers or computer networks. It involves security measures and risk management to mitigate and prevent cyberthreats, such as data breaches, malicious software, and unauthorized access.

In the "Terminator" movies, it's a computer virus that sets off the chain of events called "Judgement Day." While we're far from what happens next (no spoilers here), cyberthreats are a constant issue today.

Cybercriminals attack internet-connected systems, such as hardware, software, or data. They steal data, bait people into giving up their money, and clog websites with traffic.

Most businesses can't afford the financial setback of a data breach, costing an average of $4.45 million, according to IBM. To prevent this, businesses are hiring cybersecurity workers, who go by many different names:

  • Information security analysts
  • Security software developers
  • Network security engineer
  • Junior auditors
  • Cybersecurity technicians

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What Do Cybersecurity Workers Do?

Cybersecurity workers prevent cyberattacks and protect computer networks and systems. Rather than reacting once an attack has been made, cybersecurity workers identify and fix security weaknesses before they are exploited. Typical tasks for cybersecurity workers include:

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    Installing network security devices known as firewalls
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    Monitoring suspicious network activity
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    Creating disaster recovery plans after a cyber attack

Cybersecurity has various specializations. For example, a cloud security specialist looks for vulnerabilities in cloud platforms, services, and infrastructure. In contrast, an information security specialist protects consumer data, such as credit card and social security numbers.

How to Get Into Cybersecurity

If you want an entry-level job in cybersecurity, you need three things: education, essential skills, and training.

  1. Education: Most cybersecurity workers have a bachelor's or master's degree in areas like computer science, information science, and software engineering, according to (ISC)2. Online courses, certifications, and bootcamps are a quicker alternative. A cybersecurity bootcamp has condensed courses designed to quickly fill in-demand roles. However, some employers may prefer degrees.
  2. Essential Skills: A solid education provides essential skills needed for cybersecurity roles. They include technical skills (e.g., knowledge of risk management concepts, operating systems, programming languages, etc.) and soft skills (e.g., problem-solving, communication, team player, etc.).
  3. Training: Practical experience and certification matters. In addition to formal education, most cybersecurity jobs require at least a year of experience in related fields, such as software development, systems engineering, or security intelligence. You may also need certifications to maintain industry standards, such as Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).

Cybersecurity Career Outlook

The job prospects for cybersecurity professionals are promising. Information security is one of the fastest growing roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 35% growth for information security analysts from 2021-2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Information security analysts earned a median annual salary of $102,600 in 2021. The typical entry-level education for the role is a bachelor's degree. Salaries for bootcamp graduates are often less, at least to start, varying from $62,000-$80,000.

For example, graduates of Evolve Academy — a popular bootcamp for cybersecurity — earn a median salary of $74,000 as of 2022. Meanwhile, Payscale reports that professionals with a BS in cybersecurity earn an average salary of $76,000.

Cybersecurity Career Paths

Graduates of cybersecurity bootcamps often start in entry-level cybersecurity roles. They may decide to pursue a specialized security role after gaining some field experience. Below are some examples of cybersecurity careers and related careers in information technology (IT).

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts design and implement security solutions to safeguard an organization's computer networks and systems. These professionals often work in IT departments and security operations centers, where they monitor suspicious network activity, conduct penetration testing to assess system weaknesses, and implement security updates and software patches.

Information security analysts must continuously research the latest IT security trends to stay up to date on new threats and cyberattacks. While many people entering this occupation earn a bachelor's degree, cybersecurity bootcamps and certification can equip you with the skills needed for many entry-level positions. As of July 2023,Payscale reports an average salary of $76,698 for information security analysts.

Security Software Developer

Security software developers write code that protects computer systems and organizational data. Their daily tasks include building security-oriented software products, testing and implementing security programs, and mitigating cyberthreats.

In addition to strong coding skills, aspiring security software developers should possess strong communication and collaboration skills as they often work closely with engineering and product development teams.

Most positions require a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, as well as previous experience working with code and software. Gaining certification or completing a bootcamp can also provide you the training you need for this occupation. According to Payscale, the average salary for a security software developer is $75,776.

Network Security Engineer

Network security engineers configure and maintain security-related hardware and software. In addition, these professionals work to safeguard an organization's network by monitoring and neutralizing malicious networking packets. This is a multifaceted, highly technical job, so you'll likely need an extensive background in information security, networking, and computer engineering to become fully proficient.

Employers tend to expect at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, as well as some specialized certification, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional credential. Network security engineers earn an average salary of $95,511, according to Payscale.

Computer Forensics Analyst

Computer forensics analysts help investigate cybercrimes. While their main focus is identifying potential threats, they're also responsible for recovering sensitive information that may have been accessed or destroyed in an incident. Their daily tasks include safeguarding organizational data, identifying unauthorized activity, and writing reports on their findings.

In the event of a breach, computer forensics analysts often conduct interviews with suspects and prepare evidence for criminal trials. Most computer forensic analysts have at least a bachelor's degree in computer science and have completed specialized training in digital forensics. Payscale reports that the average salary for a computer forensics analyst is $76,589.

Security Architect

Security architects apply their computer engineering knowledge to design, implement, and monitor computer and network security systems. As these experts are highly proficient in programming languages, they can also write code to strengthen their organization's computer systems. Their daily tasks vary by industry and role, but often include conducting risk analyses, developing security structures, and identifying weaknesses in existing systems.

Security architects often need at least a bachelor's degree; however, some employers may require candidates to have a master's degree. Work experience and additional certifications can help security architects stand out in their field, as well. According to Payscale, security architects earn an average annual salary of $121,934.

Ethical Hacker

Rather than using their skills with malicious intent, ethical hackers penetrate computer networks and systems for the sole purpose of evaluating an organization's level of security. As such, these professionals tend to be knowledgeable in many different areas, particularly topics related to programming, operating systems, and computer networks.

Typical work duties for ethical hackers include conducting penetration testing and identifying system vulnerabilities. They also perform documentation and reporting procedures after completing their engagement. While a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field is a good way to acquire foundational knowledge, you will likely need years of experience and additional training in cybersecurity to become fully proficient in ethical hacking.

Payscale reports that ethical hackers earn an average salary of $79,100.

Why Pursue a Career in Cybersecurity?

There are many factors to consider before you decide to pursue a career in cybersecurity. While plentiful job opportunities and strong salary prospects make this occupation attractive, the challenging, fast-paced work environment isn't for everyone.

Technology is constantly evolving, and hackers repeatedly find new ways to penetrate an organization's security systems. A commitment to continual learning is critical to stay on top of industry trends and ensure you are prepared for new challenges and cyberthreats.

As a cybersecurity professional, you will probably work closely with colleagues and may be tasked with conveying technical information to non-technical users and employees. As such, you should have strong interpersonal and communication skills and be comfortable with the idea of working in team settings.

Where Can You Work as a Cybersecurity Professional?

The largest industry that employs cybersecurity professionals is the computer systems design industry and related services. Many small and medium-sized businesses have shifted their information storage to cloud services and need cybersecurity experts to help manage and keep their information secure.

In addition, financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies commonly employ cybersecurity professionals to increase their security capabilities and protect consumer data. A similar need exists in the healthcare industry. As hospitals and clinics expand their use of digital medical records, they require cybersecurity experts to safeguard patients' data and privacy.

In addition to industry, location also plays a role in the potential earnings and employment opportunities for cybersecurity professionals. While positions can be found across many different geographical locations, states like Virginia, Texas, and California offer the most job opportunities, according to the BLS.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Into Cybersecurity

Is cybersecurity a good career?

If you consider yourself a tech-savvy individual and enjoy problem-solving, a career in cybersecurity could be a great fit for you. In addition to high industry demand, cybersecurity professionals have strong earning potential, with the top 10% of workers earning more than $165,920 in 2021, according to the BLS.

Can I go into cybersecurity without a degree?

Minimum education requirements vary by employer, but completing a bootcamp and gaining certification are often enough to help you secure entry-level cybersecurity positions. Many cybersecurity bootcamps, like Fullstack Academy, work directly with leading technology employers and help place graduates into jobs.

Does cybersecurity pay well?

In short, yes. Cybersecurity professionals can earn six-figure salaries depending on their work experience and role. According to the BLS, information security analysts earned a median annual wage of $102,600 in 2021, and 90% of these workers earned more than $61,520.


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